A Mighty Story Retold

A Mighty Story Retold

Toil and Trouble: A History of American Labor
by Thomas R. Brooks, foreword by A.H. Raskin
Delacorte, 300 pp., $6.00


There are Civil War buffs who read and reread the chronicles of that immensely important time. There are labor buffs and I am one—for whom Antietam was never as searing as Harlan County, which is merely a statement of fact and not meant to belittle the one or exaggerate the historic scale of the other. The cordwainers, the Knights, the Homestead strikers, the sit-in auto workers are the heroes I’ve lived with. Tell their story a hundred or a thousand times, and it is always fresh and inspiring. Mighty legends are like that, and the best of them are based in fact—as this one is.

How much toil and trouble went into building the huge (perhaps paunchy, but still troubled) labor giant we know. What began in feeble skirmishes for goals that seem modest now, and was nurtured in a sacrificing struggle, became the established and reasonably affluent union movement of today. It seems incredible that men and women had to give their lives to win a ten-hour day, or the right to strike, or union recognition—and more incredible that some of the same battles, though in different locations or contexts, have still to be fought over and over.


Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: